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Lorna Doone - the Romance and Drama of Exmoor

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

Lorna Doone is one of the most famous female characters of English literature and the central character of the novel by JD Blackmore. First published in 1869, Lorna Doone made Exmoor famous and still attracts visitors keen to tour Somerset and Devon, and experience the romance and drama of Exmoor where the story takes place. If you are already a fan of the Lorna Doone novel, or are interested in learning more about the characters and the landscape, then booking a stay with Woodlands Holidays is a great way to start!

The Lorna Doone Story and Dulverton

Lorna Doone is set in 17th Century England, after the Civil War, following the restoration of King Charles II to the throne. It follows the discovery, by John Ridd, that a beautiful girl he met briefly when a boy, has been kidnapped and he decides he has to rescue her from the remote spot on the moor where she has been imprisoned by her captors.

Dulverton is the setting for the two lovers' early encounter in this famous romantic tale, when travellers across Exmoor had to contend with dangerous roads and marauding outlaws. A young John Ridd meets the beautiful Lorna when her family’s coach stops in the town for a change of horses and she asks him, imperiously, to fetch her a glass of water.

A wonderful statue of Lorna Doone, close to the Exmoor National Park headquarters, marks the spot where this encounter took place, near the Masonry Arch bridge that spans the River Barle. You’ll find this statue just a ten minute walk away from both Woodlands House and Woodleigh Cottage. It’s also a great chance to combine your short walk with a visit to The Bridge Inn.

Exmoor National Park

Exmoor was designated a National Park in 1954 and the Exmoor National Park Authority aims to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of Exmoor while promoting opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities by the public.

Woodlands House and Woodleigh Cottage - stepping back in time

Parts of Woodlands House and Woodleigh Cottage date back over 500 years and we have preserved many of the architectural features that have survived from the period in which Lorna Doone is set, with one of two modern improvements, such as central heating and running hot water!

Woodlands House’s low roofline and tall chimneys makes it a local landmark as you approach Dulverton along Jury Road. In Lorna Doone, John Ridd’s Uncle Huckaback, a merchant, lives in a similar house in the town. You might imagine, perhaps, the two characters swapping news over an ale, when you sit by the fire in Woodlands House’s dining room, with its oak ‘plank and muntin’ screen. This feature, common to properties of the period, forms a divide across two rooms with solid oak ‘uprights’ framing a series of oak planks. The one in Woodlands House dates from the 16th Century and, when you consider that a fully mature oak tree can be over 500 years old, the trees these timbers were made from would have been acorns at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066!

The Lorna Doone Valley

Lorna Doone has been widely reprinted and also produced as a TV drama and film many times, appealing to each new generation, with its drama of two young people’s love. It takes place during a turbulent period of English history - of lawless roads, political intrigue, the Monmouth rebellion and more, all set against a backdrop of Exmoor’s beautiful moorland and steep, wooded combes.

From Woodlands House or Woodleigh Cottage, you can pack a picnic and head on to the moor to discover the places described in the story, to Chibbet Post near Exford, to Lorna Doone Farm at Malmsmead and on to Badgeworthy Water.

Or travel by car further north and discover medieval Dunster, the coast and Porlock before heading on to St Mary’s Church at Oare, where key events in the story unfold.

After a pleasant tour over Exmoor’s beautiful moorland, you can head back for a relaxing pot of tea and cake at the house, or a drink at the Bridge Inn, where John Ridd first set eyes on Lorna.

More details here about the Lorna Doone Valley.

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Lorna Doone

In 2019 Exmoor celebrated the 150th anniversary of Lorna Doone’s publication with a number of events including a Lorna Doone exhibition at Dulverton’s Heritage Centre, together with themed walks, arts events, literary sessions and re-enactments in period costume of scenes from the novel.

The Two Moors Music Festival in October was also involved and commissioned a new work based on the story. These events illustrate the rich and varied cultural side to Exmoor, which bring communities and visitors alike together, throughout the year. Dulverton’s Heritage Centre is another ideal place to learn about the area’s history, attractions, flora and fauna and how to enjoy its ‘Dark Skies Park’ experience.

Further recommended reading;

You can find Lorna Doone in most bookshops and online stores but you might really enjoy losing yourself in Dulverton’s own antiquarian bookshop Rothwell and Dunworth

The Exmoor National Park provides a useful resource for planning your excursions across the moor

A visit to Dulverton’s Heritage Centre will also give you more ideas for getting the best out of your stay and you might also enjoy the Model Railway but check first to see when its open

The Two Moors Music Festival takes place over Exmoor and Dartmoor, between the 1st and 11th October 2021. Plans for this year’s event are taking shaping and you can find out more here. All Saints Church, Dulverton is a popular venue for this musical highlight of the year.

One reason for the enduring popularity of Lorna Doone was that it was published just as the railways were opening up West Somerset and North Devon. By 1873, the railway network had reached Dulverton, connecting westwards from Taunton to Barnstaple, making the area more accessible for the first time. This gave readers a chance to discover locations described in the novel. The Dulverton Station closed in 1966 as a result of the Beeching Cuts and our guests tend to arrive by car, but what if the train line was to re-open? A topic for another day.

We look forward to welcoming you to Exmoor and helping you enjoy your stay, perhaps spending some of your time discovering the Lorna Doone Trail. You can book your next holiday or weekend away here

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